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November 20, 2012

Jim Bailey: Gaither Vocal Band has the best of both worlds

In the world of gospel music, time on the road is an occupational hazard. Some groups spend parts of 40 to 45 weeks a year in the confines of a customized bus going to and from concerts. Then there are recording sessions and personal appearances. And occasional working vacations on cruises.

So it’s no wonder there are frequent changes of personnel among singing groups and their accompanists. Just ask Matthew Holt, the new pianist for the Gaither Vocal Band and the Homecoming tour. After four years with The Perrys, Holt decided he wanted to watch his two young children grow up instead of measuring their growth in between concert tours.

“The Perrys were playing about 240 dates a year,” explained Holt, 27, whose son Fletcher is 4 and daughter Ridley 1. “I wanted to be a daddy and a husband.”

Still, Holt looked at his options for using the God-given musical talent that had won him wide recognition in the Southern Gospel field. He found it when the Gaither Vocal Band had an opening left by the resignation of busy Gordon Mote.

With its Homecoming tour, the Vocal Band is one of the most widely recognized gospel presentations. But its schedule is much more relaxed. Normally there are no more than two appearances a week three or four times a month with summers off, though rehearsals and special events add a few more days from time to time.

In Mote’s case, the Vocal Band was his third job. He is a regular in the recording studios in Nashville as well as his own performance tour. Quite a regimen, especially for someone who has been blind from birth.

But the GVB schedule affords time for more than travel from one stage to the next. Even their homes are diverse. Gaither, of course, lives in Alexandria (at least when he isn’t in Nashville cooking up some more ideas). Michael English, David Phelps, guitarist Kevin Williams and drummer Greg Ritchie all are in the Nashville area. Wes Hampton commutes from Birmingham, Ala., and Mark Lowry from Houston, Texas. And Holt continues to live in McKenzie, Tenn., some 50 miles west of Nashville.

And most of them have other avenues that keep them busy off the road – or sometimes on a different road. English, Phelps and Lowry all have their own concert tours. Williams and Ritchie keep busy in the studio and backing up other singers.

The three or four Gaither Fest weekends throughout the year also involve the families of the artists, particularly the Family Fest in Gatlinburg, Tenn., over Memorial Day weekend.

Bill, of course, is the elder statesman of the group. He might be expected to be slowing down somewhat. But aside from the Vocal Band schedule, there isn’t that much to indicate he has retirement on his mind just yet.

Call it the best of both worlds.

Jim Bailey’s column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.

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